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Recall Issues Lead To GM Engineering Shakeup

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The world headquarters of General Motors in Detroit (Photo credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

The world headquarters of General Motors in Detroit (Photo credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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DETROIT (WWJ) – General Motors is shaking up its engineering staff, in an attempt to make sure future safety issues are caught, and resolved, earlier.

At the heart of the change, a new Global Product Integrity team, which will take a deep look at safety and quality issues, and making sure they don’t get missed, or “lost in the cracks” of a large operation.

“The variation piece on this has to be almost a militaristic zeal for preventing, identifying, and resolving these issues,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “That’s what we’re putting in place.”

It took years for GM engineers to determine that problems with faulty ignition switches were connected with airbags that didn’t deploy in crashes. Reuss says the new system allows information to flow across departments.

Ken Morris, currently executive director, Global Chassis Engineering, has been named to the new position of vice president, Global Product Integrity.

His job is to make sure that issues are caught early.

“This is one of the fundamental differences that we’re going to have going forward is connecting the dots on all the information that we gathered, and not being silo-ed so that information doesn’t get transferred from one spot to another,” said Morris.

GM is also adding 35 new product investigators, more than doubling the number of people who look into defects.

“They are the front line in any problem that we see at any one of these things, whether it’s at a dealership of customer level,” said Reuss.

The rest of GM’s engineering operations will be run by Ken Kelzer, currently vice president, GM Europe Powertrain Engineering. As vice president, Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems, Kelzer will supervise engineering operations, components development, advanced vehicle development and other engineering business initiatives.

GM’s current vice president of Global Vehicle Engineering, John Calabrese, will retire, after 33 years with the company. Reuss stressed that Calabrese’s  retirement has nothing to do with the ongoing investigation into the ignition switch recall.

The changes, Reuss says, reflect a change in the way engineers look at vehicle development, concentrating on the entire vehicle, not just the individual part of the vehicle they are working on.

“We really aren’t in the business of selling parts,” said Reuss. “We sell cars. Therefore, the organization that was heavily parts based for a very long period of time is now becoming vehicle driven and vehicle based.”

More changes will be coming, Reuss says, as a result of things GM learns from the issues surrounding the recall.

In an unrelated move, lawyers for GM asked a federal bankruptcy court to rule on its protection from some lawsuits. That protection would mean that GM couldn’t be sued for actions that occurred before the new company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.

Attorneys suing GM claim the company hid defects from the bankruptcy judge, and is not entitled to protection.

In a statement, GM says this motion only deals with suits claiming economic damage…including reduced value of stock or vehicles because of the recall…not suits claiming injury, death or property damage from a crash.

“General Motors has taken responsibility for its actions and will keep doing so,” read the company statement. “GM has also acknowledged that it has civic and legal obligations relating to injuries that may relate to recalled vehicles, and it has retained Kenneth Feinberg to advise the company what options may be available to deal with those obligations.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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